I’d like to take this opportunity correct the common and outrageous misconception that slow cookers are meant to save time. If you’re busy and need to make dinner fast you can always dump some junk out of cans and heat it up in the microwave, or order a pizza. Or if you want a quick home cooked meal, maybe you can pull some freezer-burned lasagna out to defrost before you leave for work or stir-fry some rough chopped veg while you cook white rice. No time for rice? Rice stick noodles are ready in like 3 minutes. There, you’re done. You have kids? Then we both know you’ve got a box of Annie’s organic mac & cheese and some frozen peas.
When I got my slow cooker (wedding registry for the win) it became clear that for the most part, people who actually cook are on their own for recipes. It seems like 85% of crockpot recipes call for at least 2 canned items. And while I did recently stock up on canned soup, it was because I realized on the anniversary of the ’89 Loma Prieta quake that if there was any kind of disaster, we’d need something to eat while the beans were soaking.
A friend gave me this little slow cooker recipe book as a joke, sometimes I read it to my husband over our dinner of real food just to see his horrified expressions. Most recipes call for 3 or more canned foods. One calls for an entire bottle of bbq sauce and another for 2 cans of coke! Did someone say obesity epidemic? Good times!
Anyway, fall has finally hit San Francisco. The other day someone mentioned they got out their crockpot and I told that sweet little sugar pie pumpkin on the counter its time had come, but when I looked up recipes online they were all for canned pumpkin. I’m not someone who usually uses recipes (unless I’m baking; if I ever tell you I’ve made a cake without a recipe, don’t eat it) but I haven’t had my slow cooker for long and was worried my lack of experience might lead to crock of garbage if I went out on my own. I researched various slow cooker recipes for winter squash, pumpkin chili, combined them with the technique for ground beef I got from the shepherd’s pie recipe I made last week (brown the veg not the beef) and went for it.
Here’s my ingredient list:
Half a pound of dried beans – soaked for 8 – 12 hours (I used half a bag of Good Mother Stallard beans from Rancho Gordo, but any white bean, pinto bean, or even chickpeas would be good)
1 sugar pie pumpkin, chopped into 1 inch chunks (you could use any winter squash, kabocha is practically pumpkin, acorn would be fine)
1 small red onion roughly chopped
1 bunch chard, stems and leaves separated and roughly chopped (kale or other greens would work)
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons plus additional water to cover
Dried parsley, thyme, sage, or whatever you like, to taste
I put the beans to soak the night before. In the morning the first thing I did was combine the meat, baking soda, 2 tablespoons of water, and pepper and set it aside during the rest of the prep. Then I drained and rinsed the beans and covered them with water in a large pot and brought it to a boil. I let it continue on a low boil for about 15 minutes or until they started to soften. Next I sautéed the onion and chopped chard stems in olive oil until they started to brown, salting to taste as I would for any veg sauté.
When everything was chopped and ready I put the pumpkin chunks into the slow cooker followed by the onion and stems. Then I added the softened beans and some dried parsley, thyme and sage (chili, cumin, coriander would probably be good additions if you’re into that). Finally I spread the ground beef out in a thin layer over everything and added water to almost cover (actually I didn’t put in enough water and added a bunch more at the 2 hr. mark, oops). I set my slow cooker for 5 hours on high. At 2 hours in, I tried my best to break up the beef and stir everything around and made sure most of it was submerged. About an hour before dinner time I stirred in the rough chopped chard leaves and set the cooker on low for another 30 minutes (I let it sit on the counter in warming mode for a couple hours before I did that, you don’t need to hang out by the slow cooker all day – if you put water to cover you could probably wait and break up the beef when you got home from work too).
The results were a mushy stew of autumn goodness. I served it over some faro. The husband gave it an A+ rating for flavor.
(Allison will be joining us weekly on the PAEOI blog with stories, tips and recipes.)